In the hot summer of 2000, missus chritter was walking home on the streets of Jersey City, and a small, yellow-eyed kitten jumped out from under a bush and attacked her shoelaces. On impulse, she picked the kitten up and brought her inside. She was dirty, thin and hungry, so missus c ran to the deli down the street for a few cans of cat food, which the new arrival proceeded to push all over the kitchen floor with her nose, growling menacingly if you approached too closely while she enjoyed her sudden windfall.
We named her Perdita (“little lost one”), after the foundling in The Winter’s Tale who washed up orphaned on shores unknown. We suspected she was part of the litter of a scrawny little one-eyed cat who lived in an abandoned building across the street. Her siblings had, one by one, been killed by cars. She would not be killed by a car. She would spend the next fifteen years being pampered and fed bits of steak and crab and green beans while ruling over our household with an imperious glower.
Why green beans? Why ask? The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.
Perdita was not what you’d call puppyish. She was the one cat we always had to gently warn visitors to just be a little extra careful with. She wasn’t mean, per se, she just, in the manner of street cats, often expressed affection in ways that were slightly inappropriate, like sinking her teeth into your hand if you petted her several seconds past what her inscrutable internal clock told her was fitting. She gave up the growling shtick while eating once it became clear to her that food was always going to be plentiful in this brave new world she’d stumbled into. She grew from combative to entitled, a curve we encouraged despite ourselves.
Within a couple months of us adopting her, she developed some kind of scary-seeming neurological disease. Her hind legs stopped working, she began to drag herself around by her front legs when she thought we weren’t looking, or hunker down and not move at all when she knew we were. I was convinced she was dying, for about the first of six times. We bounced up the vet chain to “the best cat neurologist on the east coast,” who ordered expensive and unnecessary tests over our queries and was mostly a big patronizing jerk. In the end her condition was arrested by a $7 prescription for prednisone, but she was always a little weak in the back legs; she could never jump. This affected her quality of life exactly zero, but made me thrilled when I met our newer cat friends: “Oh my god, it’s like they’re MADE OF SPRINGS!”
We lost her today, and we’re all very sad. But she had a helluva run; she got to be all the cat she could be with the time she had. She didn’t get cheated. And for our part in that, we’re both proud. Those of us who love our pets know the downside of the bargain: all that love and affection and inappropriate biting comes with a ticking clock—their lives are briefer and more compressed than ours, so the daily love always comes with the shadow of future grief. Today grief wins, but it’s still a bargain I’ll take any day, as our two other cats will attest to. It was a rough day, but it was a great fifteen years.
Goodnight, sweet grouchy Empress. And may flights of catnip duckies sing thee to thy rest.